CSRI students develop tests to examine chemical levels in soil

Jessica Pinkham ’18 and Reid Lange ’18 spent time in the lab perfecting testing methods during the summer of 2017.

“We are researching ways to test for different forms of nitrogen and phosphorus, specifically in the soil,” Lange said.

Those tests are called assays.

“An assay is basically a chemical reaction that shows us the levels of the chemical we are looking for,” Lange said. “The assays we are doing—without the presence of the chemical the solution will turn clear and with the presence will turn a bright pink.”

Pinkham and Lange are working with Professor Brian Nowak-Thompson who says perfecting these tests will allow other classes to use them. Critical thinking is a big part of this research.

“The soil is a complex ecosystem, but it is also sort of an invisible one,” Nowak-Thompson said. “The only way we can really assess it is by looking at chemical or biological markers in the soil,” Nowak-Thompson said. “We are developing those tests for the markers that then we can get some idea of what’s happening with the different elemental cycles within the soil.”

The students know this research process will help them with their future career goals. Pinkham, for example, chose to design a test for phosphorus within the soil, which is often released when a body decomposes.

“I would like to go to graduate school after Cornell, and I want to study to become a pathologist assistant and get my certification,” Pinkham said. “Then, as I’m working under a medical examiner, I’ll be working to go to medical school and hopefully become a medical examiner myself.”

To learn more about this CSRI project, watch their video story: